The designs on U.S. coins intended for circulation rarely change, so it was with surprising speed that the U.S. government decided to put John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the half-dollar just weeks after he was assassinated in November 1963.
The swiftness of this decision was more than a reflection of the nation's grief at the loss of a vibrant young president. The Treasury Department did not want to issue coins dated 1964 in the existing design (the Franklin half-dollar). With the United States already facing a severe coin shortage, choosing a new half-dollar design in time for production early in the new year was critical. Since existing law permitted a new design only once every 25 years, Congress quickly passed legislation amending that rule, and the Kennedy half-dollar was born.
Within days of the decision, Gilroy Roberts, then chief engraver of the United States Mint, sculpted the portrait of Kennedy shown on the coin's obverse, while his assistant engraver Frank Gasparro created the presidential seal design on the reverse. Regular production of the Kennedy half-dollar began by the end of January 1964. These coins were so beloved by the American public that few ever saw actual circulation. Today, they are among the most popular keepsakes sought by collectors around the world.